Two years ago, I wrote a post about the looming new generation of consoles and whether you should spend money on them on Black Friday. The main thing I wanted to tell people was that, if you had the willpower, you would be better off waiting as long as possible to buy new video game machines. I never said I had that willpower, so here are my thoughts on current gaming consoles as someone who’s had them all for about as long as anyone could have.
The PlayStation 4 had won the early days of this generation before it even came out, thanks to smart, conservative decisions by Sony and hilariously terrible messaging from Microsoft. It was the updated system hardcore gamers wanted, heavily relying on iteration rather than evolution. Better graphics, a nicer controller, better online. What I learned as an owner, though, is that each of those had drawbacks too. Sure the graphics are better, but PS4 games still aren’t in the same league as quality PC games. The controller is wonderful, probably my favorite current pad, but the internal, non-replaceable battery doesn’t last very long – which in practice means you’ll have to charge after every gaming session, sit close enough for the cord to reach, or buy a second controller. As far as the improved online functionality, it came with the requirement to sign up for the $50/year PlayStation Plus (which is admittedly a great service) – plus I don’t really care about being able to stream on Twitch or whatever.
I don’t mean to make you think that the PS4 is a bad console, just that it is becoming the hardest one to justify as someone who owns all of them. With the best console graphics and the best controller, I’ll pick up any consoles-exclusive games on PS4. Which basically is just Destiny. But hot damn have I played a lot of Destiny. I want you to get a PS4 just so we can play Destiny together. It’s also a great choice if you’re interested in PS4-exclusive games, namely Bloodborne. I know that’s a big deal, even though I don’t get it. Plus there are some games coming next year that look really great like the new Uncharted and No Man’s Sky, the most ambitious game of all time. Ultimately, if you’re looking for something to play the current, big deal releases, and only that, a PS4 is a great choice.
So is an Xbox One. I still believe big in Microsoft’s vision for one machine that controls the whole living room, even if they’ve had to distance themselves from that message. Kinect voice controls are super convenient when you’re alone but already are socially frowned upon. Having my TV run through the Xbox is neat too, though I realize your mileage will vary if you’re not into snapping, a cord-cutting millennial, or someone who doesn’t mind flipping through TV inputs. It’s my go-to blu ray and streaming services machine too, but a PS4 is equally well-equipped to serve that role (unless you’re a Comcast subscriber, in which case you’ll get fucked as a PS4 owner). So what does the Xbox One have going for it, games wise?
Quite a lot. For one, it’s started to become backwards compatible. Microsoft is slowly enabling access to Xbox 360 games, if that’s something you still care about. Honestly, I don’t, but I think it’s worth noting because it’s cool that they’re doing that. Typically, most third party games look or run a little worse than the PS4 versions – I think it’s somewhat common for games that run at 1080p on PS4 to be upscaled 900p on Xbox One. Close, but no cigar. Xbox One does have some fairly sweet exclusive games, although a lot of them have made it onto PC, like Titanfall and Dead Rising 3. Still, there’s Halo and Forza and the great-but-forgotten Sunset Overdrive. But yeah, if you’re just interested in the gaming zeitgeist, the Xbox One probably isn’t the right choice. But if you want to be able to play most games and get that great living room experience, it’s pretty sweet. I think the Xbox One is probably my most-used console ever, purely based on the fact that I watch TV, streaming, and blu rays through it.
The Wii U is still a thing, although who knows how much longer that will be true. If you really care about games, you’ll want more than what a Wii U can offer – this thing can’t be your only gaming machine. Pretty much nothing you’ll read about in modern gaming exists on the Wii U, it’s like its own alternate reality. That said, it’s still a neat console with a lot of really great games. Like if you haven’t played Bayonetta 2 or Splatoon yet, get on that. Just know that Nintendo is deep into work on a new home console and there’s not much left on the horizon for the ol’ Wii U. Get in now before this shit gets super rare and expensive. Mario Maker is probably the empirically best game of 2015, you don’t want to have not played that.
As much as your phone may beg to differ, portable games are still a thing too. Honestly, though, I can’t recommend you invest in them unless your specifically looking for the games that are exclusive to each console. The New Nintendo 3DS came out this year, making it the third time I bought this stupid console (past me would hate present me, but oddly respect future me). There are some really fun games on it, like Pokemon and Monster Hunter, but when I’m home I just can’t make myself play a handheld without feeling like a total sucker. Also the Vita is basically a dead console, but it’s cool to own for all the free PlayStation Plus games and if you want to import Japanese Gundam games which only come out on Vita now because Japan is weird. But seriously, unless you can see yourself hauling one of these things around on the bus or wherever else you’re away from home and bored, it’s probably not worth the money. You’ll never find the time.
So now it’s time for the truth: if you want to be serious about playing video games today and for the near future, buy a computer that can play them. Most games not only come out on PC these days, but the PC version tends to be the best-looking and the cheapest to buy. These days, it’s possible to put a computer in your living room, just like a console, and play games with a controller. It’s like a console, but better, because it can do computer shit too. In fact, most of the recent local multiplayer games I’ve played were on a computer. You can even take it a step further by buying a Steam Controller, which will replace your need for a mouse and keyboard, or a Steam Link, which will let you stream games from your desk to your TV, meaning you can play in whichever environment you feel that particular game suits. Almost every game I played this past year was on my computer, and I don’t see that changing in the next few years as VR starts to take off. I’m serious, if you’re thinking about buying a console without owning a gaming PC, I must urge you to reconsider.
“But I don’t like computers,” you’re saying. “I just want to play games.” What you might not realize is that game consoles are closer to computers than ever before, and PC can be made more similar to gaming systems that ever before too. The days of buying a disc and putting it into a machine and instantly being able to play are gone (except on Wii U and the portable consoles). When you buy a PS4 or Xbox One game, you will be spending some time installing off the disc and downloading patches – something that tends to go a lot faster through Steam on my computer than on either of those machines. The bar isn’t as high as you think it is between the two, and once you get into computer gaming you’ll never want to go all the way back.
So that’s where I am right now as a gamer and owner of every major gaming console. I’ll turn my 3DS and Vita on every once in awhile, but mostly they gather dust, to my shame. The Wii U gets some play when new Nintendo games come out, but it’s clear the ol’ girl is on the way out. The PS4 is mostly the Destiny machine, and the Xbox One is the voice of the TV. But I play most of the games I’m serious about either sitting at my desk or on the couch through my PC. So when you’re looking at sales tomorrow trying to decide between the PS4 and the Xbox One, know that there really isn’t a wrong choice, they’re both good. But you really should be looking for Black Friday deals on computers.